As a pediatrician who specializes in evaluating children who may have been abused, I see firsthand the physical and emotional impact that abuse and neglect can have on children and their caregivers. I also see the impact that it has on the professionals, neighbors, and family members who interacted with the child, but who overlooked the early-warning signs.
Often the signs of abuse may not be glaring. I was recently presenting a training on the signs of child abuse for a room full of doctors who are likely to come in to contact with children in their regular workday. As the result of a law passed last year, doctors are now required to receive training in pediatric abusive head trauma and other forms of abuse. After the training I had more than one physician approach me and confide that they had seen the telltale bruises on patients, but hadn’t realized that they were likely from abuse. If we aren’t educated on how to spot the signs, we miss them.
Doctors aren’t the only professionals in Kentucky that are required to get training on the recognition of abuse. Law enforcement, front-line social workers, nurses, and child care workers are also professionals who are required to receive training to identify signs of child abuse, which makes sense due to their regular contact with children.
It is so important that professionals who are interacting with children know what to be aware of if they suspect abuse is occurring. Teachers do a great job of reporting child abuse and neglect in Kentucky. Educators nationally are one of the most frequent source of reports of cases of child maltreatment. We also know that more than half of Kentucky’s confirmed victims of child maltreatment are school-aged, between 5-17 years old in 2012. Though educators are required to report child abuse, we hear from teachers who feel inadequately prepared to recognize subtle early-warning signs of abuse so they know when they should report suspected child abuse.
Educators are one of the only groups of professionals who regularly interact with children that are not required to receive any training on the prevention and recognition of abuse and neglect. This is a significant missed opportunity in our efforts to eliminate child abuse and neglect. Even when children are taught ways to keep themselves safe from abuse, there is no substitute for adult responsibility. With most children spending the majority of their days in school, it is imperative that school personnel receive training to know how to prevent, recognize, and report child abuse and neglect. Indeed, the educators themselves are asking for it.
As Kentucky works to end child abuse, we must ensure all K-12 school personnel in Kentucky receive appropriate training for the prevention, recognition, and reporting of child maltreatment. When educators know the signs of child abuse, they are equipped and empowered to protect the children in their care.
Dr. Melissa Currie, MD, FAAP is a board-certified child abuse pediatrician and Medical Director and Chief of the Kosair Charities Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine at the University of Louisville. She is a founding member of the Face It movement to end child abuse.